Look, I like Lovecraft as much as anybody. And in the world of speculative fiction — particularly horror — “anybody” is a long and illustrious list. Stephen King. Ramsey Campbell. Robert Bloch. Charles Stross… no, sod it. It would be easier to list writers who haven’t tried their hand at a Cthulhu Mythos story than to list those that have added to the body of work that has grown from Lovecraft’s singular vision of horror.
Lovecraft had great ideas. His vision of humankind as a kind of ignorant, terrified latecomer clinging desperately to a thin veneer of sanity in an uncaring, inherently hostile universe full of innately incomprehensible horrors and monstrosities is, very possibly, a spark of genius. Certainly, it has inspired generation upon generation of writers and created some of the creepiest fiction of all time.
But you know what?
I’m just gonna put it out here, folks. And I know: I’m gonna pay for this. But the truth is, Howard Phillips Lovecraft was not a very good writer.
He was verbose as hell. He wallowed in turgid passive structures. He loved to use fifty-cent words that nobody else — particularly the readers of cheap-ass, dime-store pulp fiction magazines — understood. (Hands up everyone here who can define “rugose” without resorting to any form of dictionary or thesaurus. Oh, really? Well then: how are you with “non-Euclidean”?) Reading a typical Lovecraft story is a lot like trying to snort a thesaurus: painful, and largely irrelevant.
Note very clearly I’m not saying those stories had no value. Seriously? The ideas and the concepts in them were creepy and horrifying in a way that few other writers have ever achieved, and that’s precisely why Lovecraft’s themes and tropes and ideas keep being recycled. And you know what? I love Stephen King’s mythos stories. Oh, and Charles Stross — jeez, those “Laundry” books of his are absolutely bloody brilliant. Fantastic!
You know what I don’t like, though?
I don’t like wannabe-Lovecrafts who think that the way to do Lovecraft is to write the same horrible, passive, verbose, overcomplicated pseudo-Victorian shit that Lovecraft did.
Here it is in a nutshell, my friends. By all means, explore Lovecraft’s ideas. Play with the ever-expanding pantheon of horrors that the Master established. Join the august company of often extraordinary writers who have delineated their own dark interpretations of Lovecraft’s singular vision.
But if I find you using the word “eldritch” without a very fucking good excuse, I will hunt you down and hurt you.